Gary Qualls had put the letter
from Louis down and tried to busy himself.
It had been hard to read the
letter from his son, and he couldn't reply, not right then.
There's a lot going
on here, Louis wrote. The next month will be some of the most
serious combat the war has yet to see. Well, I'm right in the middle of
it. I think I'm truly scared.
Dad, I need your prayers and your advice more than ever.
It was Tuesday, and Gary
Qualls had returned to his house in Temple after a long weekend of hunting
with an old Army friend. The trip had been a temporary distraction from
worrying about his 20-year-old son, a Marine lance corporal from a reserve
unit in Grand Prairie.
But distractions were always
temporary. Reminders of Louis were everywhere - on CNN, on the front porch
where his 1979 Harley-Davidson was parked, in the photos of Louis wearing
his Temple High football uniform.
I know you've always
been there for me. I just can't wait to come home. I want you to know that
whatever happens in the next weeks, I have always looked up to you and I
I love you and look forward to
seeing you soon.
Louis joined the Marines after
graduating from Temple High in 2001. It was hardly a surprise. He was
all-boy, learning to shoot a rifle at a tender age, competing in martial
arts, riding his Harley with his dad.
In high school, he wore the
Air Force blue uniform of the Junior ROTC, carried the flag in the JROTC
color guard, played linebacker for the Wildcats, ran track and made good
"He had a good pair of hands
and he was quick on his feet," his dad said. "He played defense very
He was a squared-away kid in
high school, quiet and attentive, according to his JROTC instructor,
retired Lt. Col. Sid Thurston.
Mostly, he wanted to be like
his dad. Gary had served in the Army and the National Guard for years and
raised two sons almost entirely by himself.
"He had the vision that he
wanted to serve in the military," Thurston said. "He looked up to his dad
as an influence in his life."
In July, Louis got orders to
mobilize with 85 Marines from Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 14th
Marines. They said their goodbyes to family and friends on a hot morning
outside the reserve center in Grand Prairie, then boarded buses.
"As soon as the mission came
up, his hand came up," said Lt. Col. Roger Garay, the battalion's
inspector. "His heart was in it."
Gary proudly told Louis'
commander that day, "Sir, you give that boy half a chance and he'll give
you everything he's got."
Those in Louis' unit were sent
to Iraq to drive the heavy trucks for the infantry, but they did a lot
more. In letters and e-mails, Louis told his father of house-to-house
searches and how humbling they were.
"He told me, 'I thought I had
a few problems when I left here,' " Gary said. "These people were so poor,
they had dirt floors and a sheet hanging in the corner with a can for a
"He realized how lucky he
truly was. He gained a lot more respect for life."
With less than three months of
a seven-month tour behind him, Louis sent his dad an e-mail recently in
which he said, cryptically, that he would be tied up for three or four
weeks and wouldn't be in contact for a while.
"I knew where he was," his dad
That was why the letter that
came on Tuesday meant so much, a surprise card that Louis had picked up in
a store on post, the kind with heartfelt words about sons and fathers.
About an hour after Gary read
the letter inside the card came a knock on the door. Louis' younger
brother, David, answered it. He came into the kitchen, where Gary had the
"Dad, there's three Marines on
our front porch and they want to talk to you," he said.
Gary knew why they were there.
"All I could do was stand at
my door and say, 'No, not my baby.' "
There was a long silence as he
"Then I let them in."
Texans in Iraq
* Marine Lance Cpl. Louis Qualls, 20, of Temple died Tuesday as a
result of enemy action in Fallujah, the Defense Department announced
* Qualls was assigned to the Marine Corps Reserve's Headquarters
Battery, 2nd Battalion, 14th Marines, in Grand Prairie.
* Qualls was at least the 110th Texan to die in the war in Iraq.